Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


Two Reviews

Shifting the time/date of the Calvin & Hobbes because I'm not ready to leave it yet and want to keep it on top, but will be sneaking this and maybe other new posts under it. This will be a long one. Promethea first followed by The Big Burn to provide context for all those quotes earlier.


(This review is for the complete Promethea series, collected in 5 volumes.)

I decided to read Promethea after coming across the description on this list of "10 Great Female [Comic Book:] Characters of the Decade" (2000-2009). It reads, in part: Promethea is one of the most important female characters I think in the last decade, in fact, she may be the most important, just not my personal favorite. . . . the title character in her own book, and with barely a man to be seen for issues and issues (something that seems completely natural here) is one of the most epic characters I’ve ever read in a comic book – Moore’s ideas barely contained on the page . . . I was a bit surprised to see his name on this list--while he writes better females than most in comics, they still generally aren't the best and he seems to have a fixation with sex. Still, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. As is often the case with his work, I was absolutely blown away by some aspects of it and left unmoved by others. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read in Graphic Literature.

I love the concept. Working from the existence of characters named Promethea in actual literature, writers who should have had no knowledge of each other yet who did related things with the same name, Moore has created a character that embodies the very idea of imagination, a character who can take material form through artists who are particularly in touch with her entity. She appears in different forms at different times through the bodies of different people as they have imagined her. She began as an actual Egyptian girl whose holy man father was killed by Christians in Alexandria in 411 A.D.

“I am two of your father’s gods. I am Thoth-Hermes and I cannot keep you safe. Not in this present world.”

“Why not?”

“Only in my world, the Immateria, can I protect you . . . and there you would no longer be a little girl. You’d be a story.”

“W-would I still be alive? Would I be able to come back and visit this world?”

“You would live eternally, as stories do. As for coming back, well . . . sometimes, if a story is very special, it can quite take people over. We’ll see.”

This story takes place in an alternate 1999-2005, with Sophie Bangs as the latest Promethea after working on a college research paper about Promethea’s various literary incarnations. In an effort to understand her new role, Sophie travels throughout the land of imagination—the Immateria—heaven, and many other types of existence, all while trying to avoid enemies who fear that Promethea is destined to bring about the apocalypse. It is a vast journey through mysticism, magic, mythology, symbolism, spiritualism, Kabbalah, tarot cards, religion, imagination—a huge interweaving of many ways humanity has sought knowledge, wisdom, insight, and enlightenment.

I’m in awe of Moore’s inventiveness and ambition as a storyteller. He constantly experiments with the ways words and images can be used to convey meaning, with layer upon layer of both taking his story to incredible depths. He uses various visual styles, parallel word flows, color schemes, circular page structures, photography, and so much more than can be described in his attempts to capture ideas too big for the page. If you’re at all interested in seeing how comics can be more than simple drawings in panels with dialogue bubbles, you need to read this.

Unfortunately, Moore is more concerned with trying to communicate his spiritual and religious ideas than with telling a story. Many of the issues/chapters are exposition on a concept and he’s more often didactic than narrative. In some ways, it’s almost an instructive textbook in graphic format. I found these ideas interesting, but they fail to convey the enlightenment I think he was hoping they would.

One attempt at an example. This bit unfolds along the bottom of the pages over the course of an issue/chapter, unveiled in parallel to an explication of what the tarot cards symbolize, Sophie/Promethea’s commentary on that explanation, anagrams of Promethea on each page (meth opera, heart poem), and many accompanying visuals. The layers are missing, but here’s a metaphor:

We come from mirrors, come from smoke. Aleister Crowley tells a joke which, if it’s understood, they say will make all magic clear as day . . .

There were these two men, sharing a railway carriage. They didn’t know each other. They just happened to be traveling together. One of the men had, resting on his lap, a cardboard box, with holes punched in the top.

After some time spent contemplating what might be inside his travelling companion’s box, the other man at last could not contain his curiosity. He said, “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help noticing your box. Does it by chance contain some variety of animal?”

The other man, though obviously surprised by this impertinent intrusion from a stranger, smiled politely as he answered. He said, “You’re absolutely right. There is indeed a creature kept inside this box. And furthermore, I may reveal, the animal in question is a mongoose.”

The first man, who’d initiated the enquiry, was astonished by this revelation. Spluttering with surprise, he sought some further explanation of this certainly provocative disclosure made by his strange fellow-traveller. “A mongoose? Sir, I must confess I had expected it to be perhaps a cat, or rabbit, not a creature so exotic and outlandish. The animal you mention so excites my curiosity that I must beg you, sir, to tell me more. Where are you bound with such a specimen, if I may be so bold?”

The other man, who sat with the perforated box on his lap, shrugged wearily as he replied. “Well,” he said, “it’s something of a personal matter, as it concerns a family tragedy. However, since I’m confident I may rely on your discretion, I suppose I don’t mind sharing my unfortunate account with you.

“You see,” the man went on, “this sorry tale concerns my elder brother. He’s always been what I suppose you might refer to as the black sheep of the family. He has for many years indulged himself in a predictable and commonplace array of vices, of which the worst is his fondness for strong spirits. His drinking has progressed until he is now in the final melancholy stages of
Delirium Tremens. My brother now sees serpents everywhere, which is the reason I am taking him this mongoose, that he may be rid of them.”

“Excuse me,” the other man interjected, looking puzzled, “but, these snakes your brother sees . . . aren’t they imaginary snakes?”

“Indeed,” his follow traveller replied. “But this . . . “ and here he gestured meaningfully to the perforated box set on his lap . . . “is an imaginary mongoose.”


Though the subtitle mentions Teddy Roosevelt specifically, this is not a biography and he's hardly the book's lone focus. The prologue made a bit of a rough entry point for me, but I really liked the book's three part structure and found it to be an engrossing read.

Part I, "In on the Creation," focuses on the creation of the National Forest Reserves and the infant forestry service. Much of the story is about Roosevelt and close friend and founding forester Gifford Pinchot's introduction of the idea of conservation into the national consciousness, framing it as an effort to save nature for the common citizen from the greedy robber barrons and their corrupt politicians who only cared about stripping the land of its resources for their personal gain. Their political battles make today's divisiveness look understated and tame in comparison, and it was fascinating reading about the friendship between the two passionate, charismatic figures.

Part II, "What They Lost," is much more intimate and personal in scale. It describes the fire by telling the stories of a range of those who experienced it. There were the "Little G.P.s," Gifford Pinchot's handpicked first wave of foresters who were responsible for the land, men like Elers Koch and Ed Pulaski, who saved countless lives but lost most of his eyesight, lung capacity, and vitality in the process. The immigrant workers representing over 30 countries like Domenico Bruno and Giacomo Viettone, who were drafted to fight fires on the promise of pay that Congress wouldn't release in their efforts to destroy the Forestry Service. The rough residents of towns like Taft, illegally built on national land that "at one time had nearly 500 prostitutes among its 2,500 people, in the estimate of a journalist, and 30 saloons." The 25th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers provided by the military to protect the towns. Homesteaders like Ione "Pinkie" Adair, who was asked to provide food and shelter for the firefighters and wouldn't be parted from her pistol. And countless others.

Part III, "What They Saved," tells of the aftermath. It broadens the view back to national politics and the the ongoing story of the Forest Service, but also completes the stories of the figures we came to know during Part II. I really enjoyed the way Egan weaves all these different threads together together to create one big tale. I was in turns entertained, fascinated, and educated.


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